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Meditations - ta eis heauton

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

I'm a software engineer / partner working for a young company in Austin, Texas, USA. I spend most of my free time hanging out with friends and family, eating out, and partying in the Warehouse District. I should spend more time working on my house....

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Houston ISD, helping move Texas back to the third world

After reading this Lasso post and the Houston Chronicle article I am disgusted. The Houston ISD superintendent wants to rollback the Math and Science requirements for High School students. At a time when America is soundly beaten by most of Europe and Asia in national science exams he wants to decrease the amount of education that students receive in these disciplines. Why is he in education? The only logic for this that I can think of is that it might increase graduation rates. Which, from what I have read, are pretty terrible in Houston. The logic therefore goes, "Many of our students aren't graduating, lets lower the bar so it is easier for them to get a diploma, even if they are less prepared for a job or life for that matter." despicable.

As a side note I noticed at the end of the Chronicle article that AISD only requires two math and science courses to graduate and I certainly think that should be upped to 3 if not 4. I took science and math courses every semester for all 4 years of high school and I still feel I wasn't terribly well prepared for the courses at UT. I can't imagine how tough it would have been if I hadn't taken all of those courses and had continuous exposure to the disciplines.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Austin City Limits Festival

The Austin City Limits festival looks to be excellent in its 3rd year. The lineup is great and includes Coldplay, Widespread Panic, Oasis, The Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers Band, Wilco, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Jason Mraz, Asleep at the Wheel, Blue October, Groupo Fantasmo, etc...

This article in the Austin American Statesman gives a nice rundown of the situation.

They lowered the number of tickets available this year from 75K to 65K so it won't be so crowded. The tickets are going for $105 for a 3 day pass at this point but according to the Statesman article they expect to sell out in either June or July. So buy your tickets now and mark down the date:

September 23-25, 2005 - Zilker Park - Austin, TX

Statesman posts my letter

They posted it last week actually, but I was in New Orleans for my older brother's bachelor party so I didn't have a chance to post about it. Here is the post on the Editor's blog.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Shut Up, Stupid

I was reading the Austin American Statesman's editors blog and came along this post describing the complaints and concerns that a reader had about an article the Statesman posted about terrorists attacking our food supply. This reader thought that articles about such topics were "stupid" and that they should just "shut up". This (along with similar concerns voiced in other posts on their blog) annoyed me so I wrote him a letter:


I just finished reading your post "Shut Up, Stupid" on the Rich & Fred blog. I think this caller represents a constant challenge to journalists and information managers generally. A significant segment of our population feels that negative news or complete information about certain topics should simply not be voiced.

These people have many reasons ranging from hurting morale to endangering children. These people feel that mere knowledge of facts and figures is dangerous or bad. Certainly, as you mention in your post, some information is dangerous and should not be made easily accessible. There is no need for the Statesman to run an article and diagrams on how to make a bomb out of household goods. Having said that, very little information should be placed beyond easy public reach. Articles about "Contractors running amok in Iraq", photo tributes to soldiers lost in war, and articles about possible terrorist threats are exactly the kind of information the public needs.

These examples provide context and important information about complex topics that effect our lives. Individuals who wish to hide this information follow some sort of panglossian ethic that ignoring information will make it go away or prevent more negatives from occurring. There is a particular arrogance to these people believing they know what is best for the public to know.

I think, and I believe history shows, it is the highest and most important job of a journalist to report on these topics. It is vitally important that the public have *all* the relevant information so that they can make informed decisions about how to spend their money, elect their leaders, and educate their children. The world is a complex, nuanced, good with the bad, shades of gray place and adults should be able to deal with that fact.

Thank you for your time. Keep the good work.


William J. McKenna

p.s. Although all of my examples reference war related topics, the same concerns show up when reporting on sex education in high school, homosexuality, abortion, etc...

The cool thing is he replied back and said, "Your eloquence is powerful." That is just about the best compliment I have ever gotten for something I wrote. Sweet!